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Here's what you need to know about the US Senate and House post-election

The Democrats look unlikely to flip the Senate, as some had predicted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Image: PA Images

THE US ELECTION has moved around some seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate but ultimately has left Congress much like it began, deeply split.

The Democrats had hoped to capitalise on anti-Trump sentiment but look unlikely to flip the Senate, as some had predicted.

Regardless of who wins the presidency, they will have to deal with partisan gridlock.

In 2018, Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives. They were expected, and are on track to, keep control.

However, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority is shrinking – calling her leadership into question.

To date, Democrats have 208 seats to the Republicans’ 190; 218 seats are needed for a majority in the 435-member House. Members serve two-year terms.

Republicans have picked up six seats so far, deflating Pelosi’s hopes to increase her majority.

Screenshot 2020-11-05 at 16.43.17 Source: Associated Press

Republicans defeated several Democratic freshmen who delivered the House majority two years ago in a backlash against President Donald Trump, by linking them to their most liberal members, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and inaccurately branding them as socialists.

“We expanded this party that reflects America, that looks like America,” Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a conference call with reporters.

Screen-Shot-2020-11-03-at-12.22.28-AM The Democrats were expected to keep their majority in the House, but the party has lost some seats. Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

Many pollsters also predicted that the Democrats would flip control of the Senate – political website FiveThirtyEight gave the party a 75% chance of doing this – but this does not look likely.

Screenshot 2020-11-05 at 16.05.56 A projection on Tuesday Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

Control of the Senate has tilted Republicans’ way as they fended off an onslaught of energised challengers, though a few races remain undecided.

Screenshot 2020-11-05 at 16.21.55 Source: Associated Press

There were 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats up for election on Tuesday. Senators serve six-year terms and a third of the seats are up for reelection every two years.

Republicans held a 53-47 Senate majority prior to the election. As things stand, with 31 of 35 races called, the Republicans have 48 seats to the Democrats’ 46, while independents have two seats (51 is needed for a majority).

Trouble for Biden?

If Joe Biden gets in, as predicted, a Republican-led Senate won’t make things easy for him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday he was confident “no matter who ends up running the government” they would be “trying to overcome all that and get results”.

Incorrect projections will likely force a rethinking of polling, fundraising and the messages both parties use to reach voters.

Pelosi has all but declared Democrat Biden the winner – an outcome that is likely but not confirmed – yesterday saying House Democrats “will now have the opportunity to deliver extraordinary progress” on party priorities — lowering health care costs, providing jobs through new infrastructure, and other goals.

However, the poor outcome for congressional Democrats put in question the ambitious plans for legislative overhauls pushed by the party, eager for a sweep of Washington government.

Even if Democrats capture the White House and a narrowly split Senate, Pelosi’s leverage to force deal-making on her terms will be diminished by her House losses.

If Trump wins another term, his Republican allies – particularly in the Senate – will likely feel more comfortable sticking with him after escaping an electoral wipe-out, though they have yet to outline a GOP agenda.

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Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist close to McConnell, said win or lose Trump “reorganised the political parties”, turning Republicans, not Democrats, into the party of “working-class” America.

“Democrats have a lot to think about when it comes to those voters,” Jennings said. “And Republicans have a lot to think about enacting policies germane to those voters.”

Democrats countered that with Biden on the brink of victory, the mandate for solutions to the coronavirus crisis, faltering economy and other big issues was as strong as ever.

“We’re going to get back to the business of governing,” Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist, said. “Republicans are going to have a choice — whether they’re going to be helpful or stand in way.”

Most immediately, a Covid-19 relief bill remains within reach, as the pandemic blazes through the states. McConnell said he would also like to negotiate a big spending bill to keep the government running past a mid-December deadline.

Contains reporting from Press Association

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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